Your Most Gracious Invitation
Please read John 4:27-42 in your Bible.
Image by James Best, (C) 2020, https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020
I was surprised to learn this week that Emily Post, who has been the American arbiter of good manners for generations, has become an “institute.” As today is “Invitation Sunday,” I was curious to see what Emily Post has to say about the matter of making invitations.
Her advice is remarkably simple. When you receive an invitation, you have just five rules to follow:
1. Reply promptly, within a day or two of receiving an invitation.
2. Reply in the manner indicated on the invitation. Even if not asked for a reply, it is always polite to let someone know your decision. 3. Make that your final answer
4. Don’t even ask if you can bring someone else along.
5. Always say “Thank You.”
That sounds like common sense, doesn’t it? I guess we need Emily Post to spell things out when common sense is uncommon!
This morning we’re concerned with a kind of invitation more important than an invitation to a party. We will look at how to invite people to meet Jesus Christ; how to start or continue a conversation about our faith. What we will see is that our job is to make an invitation, offer information, and then leave the outcome in the Spirit’s hands. The Samaritan woman of John 4 sets an example for us to follow in this matter.
One of the main things to keep in mind about sharing your faith with others is to keep it simple. There are three steps:
Initiation - starting a conversation about Jesus.
Information - sharing what you know and have experienced. Be personal and be brief.
Invitation - offer to help them make a commitment to Jesus if they are ready to make it.
The Samaritan woman’s invitation resulted in many believing in Jesus as their Savior.
CONTEXT: I believe Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman is our textbook on witnessing. Here Jesus sets an example for us to follow in how we spread the Good News. That said, the woman herself also sets an example for us on how to make an invitation, how to begin a time of witness that will, ideally, end with the person being saved.
1. The Samaritan woman’s invitation: “Come see a man who could be the Christ.” (vs. 28-30)
She was an eager witness. (v. 28) LEAVING HER WATER JAR is a detail that may imply she was in a hurry to get BACK TO TOWN. Remember, she’d come to the well to fetch water and that was the start of her conversation with Jesus (vs. 7-8). This would be like some of you leaving behind your cell phone while it was on the charger!
Or it’s possible she purposely left it behind so Jesus could finally have the drink of water He’d asked for back in verse seven, the beginning of this whole conversation. This is a reasonable explanation, given the hospitality they will show Jesus in verse 40. Either way - by neglect or intention - the woman was clearly coming back to the well.
She was a reasonable witness. (29) She offered Jesus’ supernatural knowledge as evidence He might be the CHRIST. She said, “COME, SEE A MAN WHO TOLD ME EVERYTHING I EVER DID.”
It’s possible that a woman like this was infamous in a small town like Sychar (v. 5), everyone there knew everything she ever did! No big deal there. But Jesus being a Jew and from out of town, this might possibly have indicated His supernatural knowledge.
The clincher was when she added, “COULD THIS BE THE CHRIST?” This was a question that would provoke considerable interest and is a partial explanation of their willingness to believe her testimony in verse 30.
She was an effective witness. (30) The villagers accepted her invitation and CAME OUT to meet Jesus. Her invitation was extremely simple and entirely personal: “Come with me.” These are two factors in making an appeal to unsaved folks: simple and personal.
The text gives no clue as to who THEY are. However, we know that the elders of a city congregated at the gates to hear disputes and resolve them. Perhaps in this village there were people of a similar position. It makes sense that she would take a religious question to these elders.
If this is the case, the woman had a personal motive for inviting them: she hoped they would use their wisdom to help her make up her own mind about Jesus. This interpretation explains why she asked a question instead of making a statement.
2. The response to her invitation: MANY Samaritans believed on Jesus as Savior. (vs. 39-42)
She was a convincing witness. V. 39 plainly says MANY of the townspeople believed on the basis of THE WOMAN’S TESTIMONY.
Their believing response is extraordinary when you consider two factors. One: the woman’s gender. Women were not allowed to testify in court. While this is not a courtroom, this fact testifies to a gender bias that would normally have made the woman a less reliable witness.
Two: the woman’s likely reputation. Jesus told her she’d had five husbands and the guy she was not married to the guy with whom she was currently living. That sounds like a situation rife with gossip and a scent of scandal.
Our emphasis here is on the words MANY and BELIEVED. The text carefully points out that at first blush they BELIEVED on the basis of THE WOMAN’S TESTIMONY, but in v. 42, their belief is base on Jesus’ teaching.
They showed hospitality to Jesus. (40) Which is more incredible - that they asked Jesus (a Jew) to STAY WITH them (Samaritans) or that He did?
A more typical interaction between Jews and Samaritans is recorded in Luke 9:51-56. This passage tells us that Jesus had RESOLUTELY SET HIS FACE FOR JERUSALEM. His eyes were upon the cross and He was intent on obeying the Father’s will. In fact, Jesus was so intent on getting to Jerusalem they traveled through Samaria, when Jews would normally go out of their way to avoid Samaria. And the Samaritans felt likewise, as we see in verse 53, where Jesus sent some MESSENGERS ahead to arrange food and lodging, BUT THE PEOPLE THERE DID NOT WELCOME HIM BECAUSE HE WAS HEADING FOR JERUSALEM.
For their part, His disciples showed the typical Jewish attitude in a request to CALL DOWN FIRE FROM HEAVEN AND DESTROY THEM. The Jews and the Samaritans had centuries of antagonism as they were the two halves of the divided kingdom of Israel.
Knowing the history and the prevailing prejudice of the time, this makes the Samaritans’ hospitality to Jesus (40) more profound. The text says they URGED Jesus to stay and that He stayed TWO DAYS. Their offer and Jesus’ acceptance would have been at least unusual in that situation.
After TWO DAYS with Jesus, the Samaritans believed on Jesus’ words (41-42). They came to a saving faith when they believed on the basis of Jesus’ words, not just the woman’s words.
I believe John is careful to make a distinction between Jesus’ words and the woman’s words in vs. 41+42 to make an important point: as important, even essential as our witnessing is, people are saved by hearing and believing Jesus’ words, not ours. Our job is to invite people to meet Jesus. After that, the word of God speaks for itself and faith comes from hearing Jesus’ words.
It is a statement of fact that only God knows for certain when someone is saved. This text gives us the certainty of the basis for salvation which is believing on the basis of the words of Jesus.
Notice the word MANY appears again in v. 41. Because this woman was willing to make the invitation to come to Christ, the result was the MANY believed on Him and received salvation. If we would only do our job and make the invitation, who knows how deeply God blesses our obedience with success!
The Samaritan woman’s invitation resulted in many believing in Jesus as their Savior.
Scot McKnight is Professor of New Testament at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, an American Baptist-related institution in IL. In his blog Dr. McKnight offered advice about how to invite someone to Jesus Christ.
1. “[Inviting] is not about pleading, persuading, pleasing, or getting folks to decide. [It] is to announce something about Jesus.
2. “Our calling is to witness and declare; God’s Advocate, the Spirit, awakens and draws people to God. 3. “The appropriate message about Jesus is a message that generates this question: Who is Jesus? The proper response then is to repent, to believe, and to be baptized.
4. “What we are to do is point people to Jesus. God’s Spirit is at work; when we get ahead of the Spirit, we run the risk of aborting new birth.
5. “What do I say? ‘Give yourself to Jesus!’”
There you have it. Four simple words from a learned man who is capable of giving complicated and long answers to questions. This makes me think we need to look at people and ask ourselves, “How can I make a simple and personal invitation to that person to give themselves to Jesus? The Enemy wants to complicate this matter in order to distract and discourage us. We must keep it simple and speak the words. God will take over and make it happen.
Zondervan Bible Commentary, “John”, David J. Ellis